Strength in Chaos: Lent 2023

Strength in Chaos: Lent 2023

It was I who fed you in the wilderness, in the land of drought” -Hosea 13:5

Our Lenten theme

The image of “Wilderness” rarely elicits positive thoughts. For many of us it is something to avoid, and if we must go through it then the point is to go through it as quickly as possible. But when God sends the Hebrew people or Jesus into the wilderness, it is for a time of holy preparation. Something powerful is happening in the chaos we are desperate to avoid. From now until Easter we’ll spend time on the practices that fuel us in the places where we don’t want to be. We’ll spend time in the wilderness, knowing that God is there with us, and there is…

“STRENGTH IN CHAOS”

Sanctuary Décor

Throughout the Bible – such as with Job who wonders why bad things happen to good people, and with Jonah who wonders why good things happen to bad people – the use of ashes and the donning of sackcloth is seen as signs of one’s repentance. The symbolic use of ashes in this sense continues as many Christians participate in Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. As a Christian community we also put on our sackcloth in the form of the three Lenten banners that hang by the western windows. Each sackcloth banner announces a Lenten theme, moving us through “reflection” to “sin” to “repentance,” or as the 1985 South Africa “Kairos Document” teaches us: SEE ->JUDGE -> ACT, each step moving us closer to the cross. Many of the words were painted on these banners by the youth and young adults in this congregation, but, like the empty niches above waiting for your saints, there is room left on these three banners for you to mentally inscribe your sins and the sins that confront you, how you reflect on them, and how you engage in acts of repentance for them. In this way, through these three Lenten banners, we communally wear our sackcloth in line with our biblical ancestors before God.

In the center of all this, the table remains. We will return to it each week, and you are welcome to bring plants, offerings, and signs of life to the table each week.

Lenten Schedule

Every Sunday – 10:30am CST worship service. In-person + online (“University Church Chicago” on Facebook or uchurchchi.org)

Every Monday – “Godtalk” Bible Study – 7:30pm CST via Zoom (link on calendar on uchurchchi.org)

Thursday, April 6, 6pm CST  MAUNDY THURSDAY service

Friday, April 7, 5pm CST – “7 LAST WORDS OF CHRIST” by Théodore Dubois (a musical journey through Good Friday)

Sunday, April 9 – EASTER SUNRISE SERVICE at Promontory Point (~6:30am, in-person only), and EASTER WORSHIP AT UCHURCH (10:30am CST, in-person and online)

WE LOVE YOU…SEE YOU SOON!!!

Lent 2020: Soul Food – 40 lb Costumes

Lent 2020: Soul Food – 40 lb Costumes

This picture describes Lent better than 10,000 words…

…but let me offer a few for context. This past Saturday was a huge heavyweight boxing title fight between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. I don’t know if any of you grew up with “fight nights” aka watch parties, but a big fight is tantamount to a cultural event. (Because I do something important on Sunday mornings these days, I watch almost all of the big fights in the same place I watched this past Saturday: in bed.) The man in that picture is Deontay Wilder. As the current champ, he was the overwhelming favorite to win, and you can clearly see that he understands the spectacle. This is his entrance costume.

Well…here’s another picture.

This is Deontay Wilder getting dropped. After the fight you know what he said? The costume weighed me down. It was 40lbs and my legs were done before I even got started. This man has incredible, generational talent, and was too weighed down to even use it.

This is one way to approach the next six weeks: to “lay aside every weight that so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 12), and try to tap into that greatness – that divinity – that lies inside of you. What is in the way? What thinking, behaviors, and “stories” are operating inside of us? What scares, worries, or seduces us? If Jesus spends 40 days dealing with his potential weights, then let us do the same and spend time with our shatans/satans/obstacles.

But notice the phrase I’ve used here – “spend time” – which is a different invitation than the typical Lenten encounter. I’m not saying “get rid of” because for all the sacrifice, it’ll come right back after Easter…usually. Let’s instead use this season to really sit with those stories that for months I’ve been inviting you to explore. To really dig deep and ask, “What is weighing me down?” and then, because this isn’t a self-help seminar, to ask, “What of the abundance that I also have access to through God can I use to speak to this?”

Instead of, “How can we starve ourselves?”…How can we feed ourselves this Lent? This is about Soul Food.

Our worship committee has put together an incredible series to get your body and thoughts moving, stimulate your Christ consciousness and offer some tools to enhance your connection to God, so do come to worship, but even now you may have a sense of the practices and habits that may be able to feed you during this time. Maybe they have fed you before. Maybe it’s been on your mind to start doing this thing a little more often. What will connect you to God during this season of your life? For some it will be giving up and others it will be adding on, and as your pastor I will issue this challenge: let the goal be to feed your spirit every single day up through Easter. Let the goal be a steady diet of Soul Food.

I’ll be transparent and offer mine. I’m working on my prayer life, creating some time for stillness to orient myself, and I’m using a book a friend gave me, Prayer: Forty Days of Practice, to rebuild my prayer muscles. (I pray for you all the time!) This is a way of taking care of me. Here’s the prayer for tomorrow:

You see? It’s nothing profound, but every day I’m going to do it and try and hold onto it. I’m going to feed my spirit so I can be strong enough to speak to my obstacles. Because too many people have amazing gifts that never get put to use. As you hear me say so often: If I can be a blessing, I want to be.

What will you need to do to be ready? Only you know the answer to this, and I and your church are here to help.

Don’t hesitate to show up (Ash Wednesday is tomorrow can you believe it?!?), speak up, reach out, and invite others on the journey. The table has been prepared. Love.

Lent 2018: Journey Through Junk

Lent 2018: Journey Through Junk

University Church is inviting you this season to be present in the clutter of your life – both real and spiritual – to examine, reflect, re-purpose, and maybe even throw away some things. Some things need tossing, and some things just need our attention again. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and came out ready to work. Let us use this season to do the same.

It’s CLEAN UP time. Let’s work.

EVENTS

Worship each Sunday @ 10:30am
Bible Study each Sunday @ 9:30am
February 14th  
ASH WEDNESDAY service – 6pm
March 29th
MAUNDY THURSDAY service – 6pm
March 30th
GOOD FRIDAY – 7 LAST WORDS – 5pm
presented by students from University of Chicago, CTS, LSTC, and McCormick seminaries
April 1st
EASTER – SUNRISE SERVICE – 6:30am (Promontory Point)
Regular Worship at 10:30am – University Church

THE JOURNEY EACH WEEK

Week 1 – Physical JUNK

Do you have that junk drawer that you keep adding to? Do you have clothes in your closet/dresser that desperately needs to be organized? Do you have items that you need to get rid of? Are you a hoarder? This week let us journey to those places and remove the junk.

Prayer for the week: Show me the physical areas in my life that need attending to. As I remove the junk from these physical places, let my soul rejoice in the order that is now in my life. Amen.

Week 2 –  Relationship JUNK

Are there some relationships that aren’t healthy in your lives? Are there some relationships that you need to be more faithful and consistent in? Do you have a list of people that you need to call and reach out to? This week, let us take the journey to making all our relationships healthier by removing the junk that hinders them.

Prayer for the week: Help me to evaluate the relationships that I have in my life. Be my counselor for you are the creator of community. You call us into relationships for different times and seasons. If it is time for junky relationships to end, or if it is time for me realize the value of neglected relationships, give me the wisdom and strength to pursue these with every ounce of energy I have. Amen.

Week 3 – Technology JUNK

How often do we find ourselves on our phones, social media, televisions? How often do we say we need to disconnect for just a little while so we can notice the world around us through our eyes instead of through the screen? This week, let us find times when we can disconnect. Here are some examples:

No social media all week?

No phone calls after/before a certain time

Read a book instead of watching tv in the morning or at night

Or if you do not struggle with technology, then your task is to find ways in which technology can make your life easier. Whether it is using the calendar on your phone, computer, etc. Maybe you need to organize your email or your contacts in your devices.  Organize the apps on your phone. Download photos on your phone onto a drive, upload into the cloud. Find ways to get rid of all the paper in your life through technology. Scan the boxes of records that we store forever and ever.

Daily Tasks:

Mindful Monday – find a devotion or scripture to take you through the week.

Time out Tuesday – take time to do something that you have put off for a while.

Worship Wednesday – find/write a song, poem, journal or create a dance that will encourage you through this journey through junk.

Thankful Thursday – take the time to reflect on the junk you have dealt with since this journey through junk began.

Freedom Friday – take the time to pray and release any anxiety, worry or fear.

Straighten Up Saturday – Last chance to deal with the technology junk in your life.

Week 4 – Heart JUNK

The journey this week can be difficult for most, but it is a work that we must do. Many hearts are damaged and hurting. This week we will journey into our hearts and answer some questions (in a packet that will be provided) that might be difficult. The purpose of the journey is to remove the junk in our hearts so that our hearts will be free. If you need prayer this week, or to have a listening ear, reach out to our pastoral staff and we will talk and pray with you.

Prayer for the week: Hold my heart in your hands and protect it. As I go through this journey that addresses the matters of my heart… comfort me, encourage me and push me through the tough moments. Help me to love and forgive like you. Make my heart whole and remove the junk forever more.

Week 5 – Opportunity JUNK

Do you have a lot of ideas that need you need to work on? Do you have projects that you need to start? Goals you need to achieve? Do you have too much on your plate? This week let us de-junk our plates. Let us examine our goals and create plans for reaching them. Plans that we will pray over and faithfully follow. If there is a lot that we want to do, let’s prioritize and start checking these goals off our lists.

Prayer for the week: You know the thoughts that you have toward us. You have given us dreams and visions. Help us to prioritize and organize the visions you have given us. Let us experience freedom as we strive to reach our goals and remove the junk that keeps us unfocused.

Week 6 – Body JUNK

Do you feel as if you need to have better eating habits? Well this week lets journey to the junk that we put in our body. This is not a journey to lose weight or change our physical appearance, but rather a journey to obtain more energy within our bodies. Let’s give our bodies the hydration, vitamins and nutrients that it requires. Let us choose healthier alternatives this week. Maybe it is eating less junk. Maybe it is working out and sweating out junk, etc. Whatever junk we need to get rid of in order to have a healthier body, let us take that journey this week.

Daily Tasks:

Mindful Monday – find a devotion or scripture to take you through the week.

Time out Tuesday – take time to do something that you have put off for a while.

Worship Wednesday – find/write a song, poem, journal or create a dance that will encourage you through this journey through junk.

Thankful Thursday – take the time to reflect on the junk you have dealt with since this journey through junk began.

Freedom Friday – take the time to pray and release any anxiety, worry or fear.

Straighten Up Saturday – Last chance to deal with the technology junk in your life.

 

Ashes, Sackcloth, & “Junk”: designing our sanctuary for Lent

Throughout the Bible – such as with Job who wonders why bad things happen to good people, and with Jonah who wonders why good things happen to bad people – the use of ashes and the donning of sackcloth is seen as signs of one’s repentance. The symbolic use of ashes in this sense continues today as many Christians, many of us, had ashes imposed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross during Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. As a Christian community we also put on our sackcloth in the form of the three Lenten banners that hang by the western windows. Each sackcloth banner announces a Lenten theme, moving us through “reflection” to “sin” to “repentance,” or as the theologians of the 1985 South Africa “Kairos Document” teaches us: see-judge-act. Many of the words were painted on these banners by the youth and young adults in this congregation, but, like the empty niches above waiting for your saints, there is room left on these three banners for you to mentally inscribe your sins and the sins that confront you, how you reflect on them, and how you engage in acts of repentance for them. In this way, through these three Lenten banners, we communally wear our sackcloth in line with our biblical ancestors before God.

The traditional table certainly seems more cluttered as well, as we examine the clutter in our own lives. Most would call it “junk,” and some of it surely is, but many more pieces of our lives are quite important and neglected – they become junk. As Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, so too will we spend precious time with ourselves. With our “Junk.” Bring some to add to the altar, and let this space, along with the music, carry you to a place of deep reflection. Allow that insight to transform you.

The DARK Psalms: Lent 2014

A Word from Worship, by Mary Stainton

One of my favorite scripture passages is Psalm 139.  I read it every year on my birthday:

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.  (vv. 13-16a)

Such lyrical words!  I confess I skip over part of the poem:

O that you would kill the wicked,
O God. . .
Do I not hate those who hate you,
O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise
up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies. (vv. 19; 21-22)

Those words make my Martin Luther King Jr. loving soul squirm!

Last week in the Bible study I lead, we talked about the Babylonian exile.  I read another beautiful psalm aloud, Psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?  (vv. 1-4)

I skipped part of that psalm too:

O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!  (vv.8-9)

Only I didn’t exactly skip it. I read it to myself—and laughed. How often I have wanted to dash the heads of people who were holding me captive against a rock! In the midst of whatever Babylonian wilderness was mine, I wanted to hit them, or whatever they loved, and hit them hard.

The dark psalms, those sad, angry, even violent parts of scripture we’d rather skip over, were voices in Israel’s wilderness. They can be voices in our wilderness too. They can help us share with God and each other those feelings we’d rather not express, but must—especially if we want to act nonviolently.

During this Lenten season, we will journey once again through the wilderness. Moving together in faith, we will dare to trust that the God who is our friend accepts and holds our most difficult emotions with compassion. We will embody that compassion for each other. Our liturgy will bring forth the dark psalms and allow them to do their healing work within and among us. Like the Israelites, we will wander through the desert enduring exile, knowing that when we return home, we will be God’s newly confident people, ready once again to share God’s love with the world.

Please join us on the journey.

–Mary Stainton

Church in the Wild

Kanye West and Jay-Z are no doubt names you have heard, though I’d be shocked (and pleasantly surprised) if you came to me next Sunday reciting any of their lyrics.

Their most recent collaborative project, Watch The Throne, is fun, unapologetically boastful, boisterous, and (my favorite) “provocative.” Take for example the lyrics to the opening song, “No Church in the Wild”:

Human beings in a mob

What’s  a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a God?
What’s a God to a non-believer, who don’t believe in anything?
Will he make it out alive? No church in the wild.

Then more…”lies on the lips of a priest”…then more…”We formed a new religion, no sins as long as there’s permission”…like I said, provocative. The idea is simple: money and personal desire are the new religion in this “wild” world we live in. They use their album to pray constantly to these new gods, and speak great truth between the lines. It is indeed hard to fully possess a faith that encourages sober thinking and humble lifestyle choices in today’s culture.  It is far easier to justify one’s innate drives, whether selfish or well-intentioned, under the guise of, “This world is too wild and unstable to depend on any vision other than my own.” This is the aspect of Humanist thought that is most frustrating: beyond the goodness and potential, humanity is inherently broken. The “bootstraps” morality of songs like “No Church in the Wild” cannot escape the futility of trying to hold water in a broken glass.

It requires no Christian formation of anthropology but a cursory look at human history to see the flaws. But what Kanye West and Jay-Z do, as do so many others, is remove the space for God, abandon those “religious” moments of personal reflection, and instead absorb the wild into their very being. They assume the traits of the wild to better navigate in it. From an ecological or Darwinist view, they adapt to survive. From a Liberation or Group Psychology view, they have become the oppressor.

All fascinating stuff, but there is an alternative. At least from the view of religion, Lent is the season where we pause in the wild for a moment of personal reflection. We look at what we (and our dealings, i.e. society) have become, and instead of assuming that the wilderness is some unimpeachable Wild, we take the stance of faith: broken, but not beyond repair. The six weeks is a period of reflection and repair, to look at our “sin” or whatever keeps us distant from God, and to seek redemption. The good sense of the Hebrew and Christian canons teach us the same thing, over and over again: Through God, we are stronger than any oppressor.

We are going to have church in the wild. During this season we will spend some time in the various wildernesses of our collective and individual being. Those places we have ignored. Those habits and attitudes that have become mundane. Those vacancies we walk past. It is right that we destroy the false idols and repair the abandoned buildings of our soul. This is why Jesus came. From Ash Wednesday to Good Friday and on to Easter, this is the work of University Church.

—Pastor Julian

Lent 2011: Contemporary Stations of the Cross

Formalized in the 15th century as a Christian spiritual devotion or practice, the roots and antecedents of the “stations of the cross” go back to the earliest Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem in the 5th century. Each of the 14 stations focuses on an event — some biblically based and others more legendary — of Jesus’ final days: from false arrest to “trial” in a kangaroo kourt to “intense interrogation” to execution — Jesus’ “passion” or suffering. While almost all Catholic churches have some version of these 14 stations along the walls of the sanctuary, other denominations — such as the Episcopalians (Anglicans) and Lutherans — occasionally participate in this form of Christian spirituality, especially during Lent.

This Lenten season various ministries of University Church will make contemporary “stations of the cross,” current renderings of the via dolorosa or “sorrowful way” of not only Christ Jesus but also of the various peoples we continue to “crucify” in our world, if not directly then indirectly through our policies of action and inaction. Each Sunday of Lent new “stations of the cross” will appear in the chancel area. Some will be accompanied by that Sunday’s Affirmation of Faith; others will not. Please feel free and take prayerful time before and after worship service to go up to the chancel, be confronted by the contemporary “crucified,” and for six weeks to travel the “sorrowful way” and our congregation’s faithful responses to it.

Sackcloth & Ashes (description of Lenten banners)

Sackcloth & Ashes (description of Lenten banners)

Throughout the Bible — such as with Job who wonders why bad things happen to good people, and with Jonah who wonders why good things happen to bad people — the use of ashes and the donning of sackcloth is seen as signs of one’s repentance. The symbolic use of ashes in this sense continues today as many Christians, many of us, had ashes imposed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross during Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

As a Christian community we also put on our sackcloth in the form of the three Lenten banners that hang by the western windows. Each sackcloth banner announces a Lenten theme, moving us from “sin” through “reflection” to “repentance,” or as the theologians of the 1985 South Africa “Kairos Document” teaches us: see-judge-act.

Many of the words were painted on these banners by the youth and young adults in this congregation, but, like the empty niches above waiting for your saints, there is room left on these three banners for you to mentally inscribe your sins and the sins that confront you, how you reflect on them, and how you engage in acts of repentance for them.

In this way, through these three Lenten banners, we communally wear our sackcloth in line with our biblical ancestors before God.